New Condo Board: Transition Is Important

Written By: Benny L. Kass
Friday, November 7, 2014

In the past two years, there has been an explosion of new condominium associations. Some are as small as 4 units, and some larger than 200 units. But the process of transition is important regardless of size.

Many new owners are first time buyers. They have never owned any real estate and have no business experience whatsoever. And they do not understand how condominiums work.

But many associations are big businesses, with budgets in the millions of dollars. Unless owners get involved, learn the process, and hire competent professionals, the association may be headed for disaster -- financially as well as emotionally.

Service on the Board of Directors is a thankless job. The hours are long and there is no pay. But if you want to make sure that your investment your home will be secure, you should seriously consider running for a board of director position..

Many owners do not understand that when the very condo unit is sold, the association is already in existence. The developer usually selects the first board of directors, which manages the association until turnover of control is accomplished. In general, the laws in the surrounding jurisdictions require that control be turned over to the owners within so many years after the first sale, or when a certain percent of the homes have been sold, whichever comes first. The turnover requirement is spelled out in your associations governing documents.

Transition between developer and owner control is perhaps the most important aspect of any community association. If done properly, the association will be off to a good start; if done poorly, it may take a long time to get back on track. And some associations never succeed.

Unfortunately, many developers do not understand the importance of working with owners. It is not acceptable for a developer me>

Owners should form a group and contact the developer and ask for a p>

At some point in time, the developer will schedule a meeting of owners to elect a new board of directors. The Bylaws require that a formal notice must be sent to all owners advising them of the meeting and the pending election. This will give owners the opportunity to campaign for seats on the board. In my opinion, a community association is a mini-democracy. We have political campaigns for government officials; we should also have campaigns for directors of community associations.

Once the owners are in control, there are four mandatory steps that must be taken by the new Board:

1. Select a management company: The new board must decide whether to retain the existing management company -- which had been selected by, and may be too loyal to, the developer -- or select a totally independent management company. The association may decide to forego hiring such a company and become "self-managed", but I personally do not recommend this. An association containing a large number of homes needs professional management.

2. Audit the books: An independent auditor or a certified public accountant must examine the associations books. It is important for members of the new board to satisfy themselves and the owners they represent that during the time the developer was in control, all moneys collected and all expenses paid have been properly accounted for. Keep in mind that while the developer is in control of the association, the developer also has access to the association funds. You want to make sure that funds which should have been paid by the developer are not inadvertently or purposely paid out of association proceeds.

Sometimes, the developer controlled board may have allowed owners to become seriously delinquent in paying their association fees. The new board must establish a comprehensive collection policy that will be applied uniformly. I am a strong believer in a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to delinquencies.

3. Retain Legal Counsel: The association should retain a lawyer knowledgeable about community association laws. The lawyer will have to handle a wide variety of issues, ranging from developer problems -- such as warranty and other transition issues -- to assisting the association in its day-to-day activities. A community association is not only a mini-democracy, it is also a business, and must function in that capacity as well.

4. Physical Inspection of the Property: The board should hire a licensed engineer to inspect the common areas of the complex. The engineer should determine whether there are any warranty defects which should be called to the attention of the developer. The engineer can also help the board determine the proper level of reserves that are needed for future repairs. This is known as a "reserve analysis study". The professional engineer determines the useful life of the major components in the complex eg. the roof, elevator, and other common areas, and the projected cost to replace at the end of its life. On an annual basis, sufficient funds should be placed in reserve, so that when the component wears out, there will be enough money in reserve to pay for its replacement. Otherwise, each owner may be faced with a large special assessment. In the words of a TV commercial: "pay now or pay later".

Turnover of developer control is the most important aspect in determining the future success of a community association.

Good dialogue among unit owners, the developer and board goes a long way toward creating a successful association. Its hard work to be on a Board of Directors, but your home is your investment and you certainly want to protect it as best you can.

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